Bloc Party: Ring the Alarm

The singer’s media awareness is remarkable; our conversation will touch on everything from stateside acceptance of the Futureheads to CNN political coverage to the typecasting of British comedian Steve Coogan. He’s keenly concerned with the media’s perception of Bloc Party and annoyed that, in England, the band is considered another abrasive, jarring rock band. He’s already begun to read advance reviews of Silent Alarm online, frustrated that “no one notices the things I was kind of hoping people would notice about it, like the lyrics.”

Silent Alarm is a record about confusion, or as Okerke puts it, “just being kind of slackjawed at the world. There’s a lot of disquiet, and there isn’t any resolution.” Even the mellow tracks get thrown for a curve; “Blue Light” is a whispered, yearning paean (“I still feel you/ and the taste of cigarettes”) that should be the band’s slowjam, their cellphone-as-lighter-in-the-air power ballad moment—but its skeleton is an uneasy metronome of snare-rim clicks. “We never wanted to patronize people,” says Okereke, “I’ll never feel comfortable with obvious hooks.” Yet somehow, it all congeals into unconventionally catchy, genius pop that expertly straddles the line between sweetness and abrasion. Okereke’s delivery is expressive rather than explicit, but delivered with an unfailing passion—without a lyric sheet, it’s hard to tell whether you’re listening to a political song, a love song, or both. “I’ve always been skeptical of bands where all they ever talk about are their girlfriends or something, and I’ve always been skeptical of big, didactic sort of speeches, tirades against whatever,” he says. “But when I actually started to look at the world with observant eyes, I noticed that things aren’t always the way you thought they were going to be. You’re not invincible, and the world is a dark, complicated place. I kind of realized the importance of love. So that’s why I’ve tried to balance this record with songs about relationships and people—it suddenly became a lot more important to me.”

Weeks after the East London interview and the concert at Whelans, a conversation with a friend had me thinking about how all the new wave bands of the ’80s were obsessed with the Cold War—“like they wanted to be desperately and sadly in love while the world exploded,” she said. Bloc Party capture the same feeling: the galloping drums and electronically bent kamikaze guitar divebombs; the sawtoothed melodies that cut through drumline stomp, only to all fall back completely in aftershocks of nothing but woozy bass and vocals, ringing delay and empty space. The lyrics come as snippets: “something glorious is about to happen,” “we will not be the last,” “are you hoping for a miracle?” They’re writing dance music for the fallout. Like Bloc Party, we grew up in that same era of Reganomics and Thatcherian dread; the paranoia sublimated in our action figures, where our good guys shot blue lasers and our bad guys shot red ones, was bound to surface sometime—especially when the world’s atmosphere is still one of impending doom. It’s insane, but even Bloc Party’s name implies that it’s as much about us, the listeners, as it is them, the band; that connection is what allows the music to resonate. The cover artwork for their album, designed by Moakes, is a forest that’s been almost completely whited out so that all you see are faint outlines of trees and the words Silent Alarm. It feels empty and lost—but not alone.

Back in Ireland, at the filled-to-bursting Whelans, the kids are bringing it to life. When Bloc Party is on stage, their performance creates that ridiculous wave of people moving as one; any time Okereke leans out over the crowd in the slightest, the tide rolls over in a collective attempt to touch him. It’s an effect you don’t expect brainy, politically minded art-rockers to generate. The “hey, hey, hey” which starts off “She’s Hearing Voices” is turned from an eerie, stalking whisper to a stadium-ready, fist-pumping chant. Someone is crowd surfing. When Okereke announces from the stage, “this next song is ‘Like Eating Glass’,” there is an eruption of cheers. “Why are you clapping? You’re not supposed to know that song yet!” The audience sings every lyric, hangs on every one of Okereke’s words: I can’t e-eat, I can’t…sleep. I can’t sleep, I can’t…dre-e-am… The release of Silent Alarm is still months away, but a genuine bond has been made, a nerve touched. Maybe it’s just the end of the world as we know it, again.

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POSTED January 4, 2012 9:33AM IN FEATURES TAGS: , ,

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